Is Your Doctor Experienced Enough to Operate on You?

When you need a medical operation, you will naturally have a lot of concerns and questions about your health and your recovery, but one question that may not immediately occur to you is: how experienced is your doctor at the surgery they are going to perform on you? It should, however, be among the top of the list of your questions regarding surgery.

Surgical Risks Increases with Surgeon Inexperience

A recent study conducted by Duke University Medical Center and published in the Annals of Surgery found that the risk of complications was far greater for surgeons who only performed 1 thyroid removal surgery each year compared with surgeons who performed 25 or more thyroid surgeries in a year.

study looked at almost 17,000 cases over a ten-year period and found that patients’ odds of developing a complication from surgery increased 87% if their surgeon performed only one thyroidectomy that year. For 2 to 5 surgeries performed each year, the patient’s chances of complications still increased 68%, and for 6 to 10 surgeries per year, the patient’s risks increased 42%. Complication risks continued to decrease with increased surgical practice each year with 22% for 11 to 15 cases per year, 10% for 16 to 20 cases per year, and 3% for 21 to 25 cases each year.

This was the first study to indicate a specific surgical volume threshold (more than 25 thyroidectomies per year) improved patient outcomes. However, the idea that a more practiced surgeon will provide better patient outcomes is not new.

Mortality Rates Increase with Surgeon Inexperience

A 1979 study performed at Stanford and published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that mortality rates were significantly lower among patients at hospitals that performed more surgeries than patients at hospitals where surgeries were performed with less frequency.

The study examined mortality rates for 12 surgical procedures, including open-heart surgery, vascular surgery, and coronary bypass surgery, at 1498 hospitals. Researchers found that in hospitals with more than 200 of these operations per year, the death rate was 25% to 41% lower than in hospitals with lower volumes of these surgeries.

Contributing Factors: Smaller Hospitals and Uninformed Patients

Along with inexperienced surgeons, lower-volume hospitals can lack specialized teams to care for patients and may not have the state-of-the-art technology available that would help to prevent or quickly detect complications.

Because many patients are not aware of complication rates, they do not even know to ask questions about surgical volume or related risk of complications when they are choosing surgeons or hospitals.

Every surgery involves some risk, but the inexperience of your surgeon should not be one of them. Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States. Protect yourself by being an informed patient and understand your options for legal recourse when the doctors you trust act negligently.

By Kline & Specter, PC, Pennsylvania
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kline & Specter, PC
At Kline & Specter, PC, five of our attorneys are also physicians. We understand the complexities of surgical procedures and medical malpractice cases. We are dedicated to fighting for the justice that medical malpractice victims deserve. We have recovered millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements for our injured clients and their families.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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